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DVD Review: Fidel

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I imagine that any review of a documentary of Fidel Castro will bog down into pro and anti arguments against socialism versus capitalism. I wish to avoid that particular conundrum, but it is probably inevitable as we so enjoy our cold wars.

The release year of Fidel is listed as 1969, and the interviews look to have been conducted in 1968. The Cold War was certainly simmering at that point in time. The United States was mired in Vietnam, ostensibly against the Soviet threat, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was still a frightening memory. I was six, so if my review sounds like I am viewing a historical document of which I had no understanding of at the time, I am.

There is no question that Fidel is biased, and thankfully so. What we see here is exactly what Castro wanted the world to see. He is presented as a “man of the people” who would rather be out in the field talking to farmers about their daily lives, than sitting behind a desk. Having said that though, none of these sequences seem staged.

The filmmakers follow Castro around the countryside, and record him speaking in one-on-one situations. There is criticism, couched as jokes, and Castro takes it all in stride. For those who would equate him with Stalin or Hitler, let me just say that I could not imagine conversations this seemingly spontaneous ever going on with either of them. To add insult to injury, the man is extraordinarily engaging.

Maybe the biggest strike against the film is the quote from Ralph J. Gleason on the cover. “…Exciting and illuminating work. I found it completely absorbing from the start to finish. A tapestry for history.“ Along with Jann Wenner, Gleason co-founded Rolling Stone, which Sheriff Joe Arpaio now calls “that marijuana magazine.” I don’t know, maybe Arpaio is the voice of today’s not-so-silent majority. I doubt he would enjoy this film, that’s for sure. But I bet he votes Tea Party all the way.

Cinema Libre has recently issued the 95-minute Fidel on DVD, and I have to wonder if this 43 year-old documentary will still stir the passions of the Right. I hope so. What Castro has to say about society providing for each other makes sense, but seems to belong to a generation that once had a sense of hope. In our brave new world, these types of thoughts seem verboten.

In any event, the Fidel DVD is definitely worth seeing, even if the world has decided to pay no heed to the issues it raises. Whether ignoring poverty is the answer or not is in the end irrelevant. The fact is we have, and a lot of what Castro says seems very sadly dated.

I’ll bet Mitt Romney would find this to be the most hilarious release of the year. After all, Mitt Sr. was pioneering the idea of raping corporations for personal profit when Fidel was filmed. In 2012, this movie shows not how far we have come in 43 years, but how far we have regressed. As winners of the Cold War, and self-proclaimed only inhabitants of “The Land of the Free,” the ideals Castro espouses should be something we take for granted.

Whether he only “cared” for the cameras or not, Fidel Castro makes some very resonate statements. Fidel is a surprisingly effective reminder of the ongoing battle between the haves and the have-nots. Even if he, and Cuba for that matter, are basically irrelevant on the world stage today, what he had to say in 1968 is as relevant now as it ever was.

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